ACBA member chosen as Gender Equality Coordinator By Tracy Carbasho Linda Varrenti Hernandez is accustomed to being a trailblazer in the legal profession, so she is well prepared for her new position as the nation's first gender equality coordinator for a bar association. She began serving in this capacity for the Allegheny County Bar Association on July 16. She was also one of the first attorneys to participate two years ago in the Lawyers on Loan project, a cutting-edge program where law firm associates take time away from their practice to do full-time pro bono work at the Neighborhood Legal Services Association. "A colleague sent me an e-mail recently that said 'you're the only person I know who takes positions that weren't positions before you took them,''' said Hernandez. "I have always been blessed with enormous opportunities and I am attracted to work for which I feel pride. The law is a noble profession and I believe lawyers want to serve and strive for equality for all." "It is a thrill for me to work on a project that can change systems for the better. My work at the NLSA taught me how important that was for me personally. To have this opportunity now is a blessing. It allows me to take all of my personal and professional experiences and use them for the benefit of others.'' ACBA President Ken Gormley said Hernandez was a good choice for the position because she is passionate about the work being done by the association's Gender Equality Task Force and the Women in the Law Division. She has also been involved with issues pertaining to women in the profession for many years. "She has a sophisticated understanding of the problems we face here and she has a desire to take the necessary steps toward addressing the issues,'' said Gormley. The idea to create the new position stemmed from the work being done by the task force, which is co-chaired by U.S. Magistrate Judge Lisa Pupo Lenihan and Gary Hunt, managing shareholder at Tucker Arensberg. The task force has been meeting on a regular basis to address the results of a survey commissioned by the Women in the Law Division in 2005. The survey, which was intended to determine how the role of women in the legal profession has changed over the past 15 years, netted results that were both alarming and disappointing. The results showed that approximately 60 percent of the women who responded to the survey believe their professional career development has been impacted to some degree by discriminatory practices. The survey findings also revealed that women working in the legal field are earning less than men. In particular, the results show 20 percent of men earn more than $250,000 per year, while only five percent of women are in this income bracket. Women earning $300,000 or more per year are working an average of 10 hours more per week than men taking home the same amount of money. "The task force has grown in scope and number of projects. It made sense to have one person coordinate all of this work,'' said Gormley. "The first milestone will be taking the work of the four task force subcommittees and turning it into a comprehensive report, which will include recommendations for best practices that lawyers throughout the country have adopted to deal with problems that have led to gender inequality.'' The report will serve as a blueprint for law firms and legal employers to use as a guide. Hernandez will meet with managing partners at firms, corporate legal counsel and other legal employers to provide them with valuable information to help them incorporate best practices into their business. She has already outlined short-term and long-term objectives she would like to achieve. First, she would like to keep the lines of communication open between women in the legal profession so they can exchange ideas and share experiences. She would also like to develop programs that promote mentoring and address issues relevant to women serving as rainmakers at law firms. "People may have been taught how to be effective mentors, but the concept of rainmaking is not taught in law school even though it is quite important in the real world,'' she noted. "Positive results for women in the profession can lead to positive results for the entire system.'' Her long-term goals are to keep women from leaving the profession, open a dialog between all attorneys about gender equality, address compensation inequities and develop the best practices. "The long-term goals will become more apparent when all of the task force subcommittees have prepared their final reports,'' she said. "I anticipate they will mirror the issues addressed in the survey and I'm sure there will be others that we are not aware of yet. This is a fluid process and flexibility will be an important characteristic of all those involved.'' Hernandez believes the new position is necessary because the volume of work required to address such a large issue, which affects men and women, is too great to be done by volunteers. "There must be a gatekeeper to ensure that the effort stays on track and to evaluate the progress at any given time,'' she said. "We need to keep the momentum of the task force going because this could be a precedent. "The creation of this position shows there is a strong commitment on behalf of the entire bar - men and women - or they wouldn't have agreed to fund such an endeavor,'' she added. "This issue gains importance because people are willing to put resources into it.'' Hernandez commended the task force members for the diligent effort they have put forth and the work they have completed. Gormley participates on the task force and believes the addition of a coordinator will lead to positive results. "Our ambitious goal is to make progress that can be seen and measured by developing the blueprint of best practices,'' he said. "In the process, we hope to establish a new standard of excellence that can serve as a model for bar associations across the country.'' ACBA Executive Director David A. Blaner said the bar association has vowed to be proactive and to champion significant change regarding gender equality. "Because the results of our survey were similar to those in other cities, it would have been easy to maintain the status quo,'' said Blaner. "However, our members know that we do not take the easy way out, especially when something is impacting people's rights.'' Hernandez said everyone can take action on a daily basis to eliminate bias. It can be as simple as remembering to respect all people. She believes the work being done in Pittsburgh to promote gender equality could help other bar associations that face similar problems. Hernandez entered law school at Duquesne University in 1998 after raising her children and received her degree in 2001. She has worked at Dickie, McCamey & Chilcote as a litigation associate since 2001. "I don't see any obstacles, only opportunities,'' she said. "Every job has challenges, but I focus on the triumphs. The real issue now is our commitment to making things better for people who are so deserving.'' n